EXORCISING DEMONS

EXORCISING DEMONS

On October 16, 2003, Aaron “F*&^%ng” Boone added to the Boston lore by hitting a walk-off, game-winning, series-ending homerun in the bottom of the 11th inning, sending the Yankees to the World Series and the Red Sox home without a championship for the 85th consecutive year.

The Boston faithful had reason for hope in the 8th inning that night, up 5-2 with but five outs to go.  As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I have no need to relive (or write about) what transpired next, it being forever seared into our brains by one of the worst managerial decisions in the history of the game.  Suffice it to say, Red Sox fan’s hearts were ripped out, yet again.

In 2004, the script seemed to be re-written.  The Red Sox wiped the slate clean, hired a new manager, and brought themselves into the ALCS with more than just a hope that “this is the year”.  And then the Yankees stepped on the field.  Before you could blink an eye, the Yankees were up three games to none, and a long, cold, dreary winter in the Northeast was again on the horizon.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I have much need to relive (and write about) what transpired next, it being forever seared into our brains by the greatest comeback in the history of the sport.  The Red Sox looked into the abyss; there was nothing staring back; at that moment, they found their character; and that is what kept them out of the abyss.  On the shoulders of David Ortiz, the Red Sox rode to victory after victory after victory, ultimately vanquishing the Yankees in Game 7.  The BoSox kept that momentum and swept the Cardinals to win their first world championship in 86 years.  Their demons were exorcised on a cold, Fall night in St. Louis.

So why am I writing about the 2004 Red Sox in the middle of the 2016 season?  Fair question.  The answer (hopefully) will become clear in a moment.

“Red Right 88”

“The Drive”

“The Fumble”

“The Shot”

Jose Mesa and Edgar Renteria and Craig Counsell

“The Decision”

Is it becoming any clearer?

The City of Cleveland has had its share of heartache and heartbreak. Probably a whole lot more than their fair share. The links listed above represent nightmares – literal and figurative – for people of Northeast Ohio.  They represent opportunities squandered and seasons wasted.  They represent the downward turn in the Rust Belt and lakes on fire.  They represent the DNA in multiple generations who have known nothing but loss – and pain.  It has been 52 years since the City of Cleveland has sniffed the sweet smell of success; tasted the sweet wine of winning; drank the sweet champagne of championship.  Clevelanders have grown weak not having to lift trophies over their heads; and have filled landfills with unused ticker tape.

But all of that was supposed to change with “The Letter”.  After the 2014 season, the Cavaliers decided that “this will be the year”.  They brought in a new coach and lured back the hometown hero – and this time he brought with him championship experience.  Just as the Red Sox hired a new manager and brought in an ace with championship experience for 2004, their script was due for a rewrite.

The Cavaliers had a great season and brought themselves to the Finals.  But two of their three best players got hurt, they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Golden State Warriors, and their championship hopes were thwarted for yet another year.  Cleveland fell into another malaise.  Countless stories were written. Documentaries were made.

But Cleveland is a resilient town, and the Cavs are a resilient team.  They battled a sluggish start, fired their “bad-fit” (read: didn’t see eye-to-eye with LeBron) coach, and slowly rounded themselves into a championship-caliber team.  And, just like the 2004 Red Sox, they brought themselves all the way back to the championship.

And just like the 2004 Red Sox, facing the same opponent, they looked overmatched and outclassed.  And just like the 2004 Red Sox, they found themselves on the brink of elimination in the most ignominious and embarrassing of ways.  And just like the 2004 Red Sox, in order to win, in order to hoist a trophy, in order to exorcise their demons, they would have to do something that no other team in the history of the sport had ever done.  The Chinese proverb states: Go straight for the heart of danger, for there you will find safety.  These teams live in that danger.  This is not just a way for these franchises, this is the only way.

So, for those reasons; because the sports gods work in strange and (un)predictable ways; because momentum is a fickle bitch and cannot be denied; because winning on your opponent’s turf makes the victory that much sweeter (just ask Steph Curry); because there simply cannot be any other outcome; the Cavaliers will win tonight.

Or, Steph will do Steph things.  Klay will do Klay things.  Draymond will stop doing Draymond things, and the Dubs will repeat.  What the hell do I know?

For my money, take the 4.5, take the Cavs on the money line, and be prepared for the Cuyahoga to catch fire again.  Someone wake up Barry Goldwater, the City of Cleveland is ready to party like it’s 1964!

PLAY/JUMP BALL!!

EATING CASH

EATING CASH

Eating cash is the new eating crow.  I am not sure when the tide turned and teams decided it was better to eat cash and release or trade a player rather than rolling him out day after day (or start after start) and suffer the indignity of a deal gone bad.  But it definitely has happened.  We have seen this phenomenon a few times just this past week.  To wit:

After an on-radio tirade by the team’s general partner, Padre GM A.J. Preller thought it best to rid himself of James Shields.  The problem, Shields is still owed about $58M (from the 4/$75M deal he signed last season).  The White Sox, knowing they had a ton of leverage, required the Padres to eat $31M of that.  The ChiSox get an innings eater at $7M/year for the next three years.  (However, he only went 2 innings and gave up 7ER in his White Sox debut, so maybe it wasn’t such a good deal.)

Last week the Dodgers did a two-fer: First they released Alex Guerrero.  The Dodgers finally resigned themselves to the idea that this was just a bad deal for a bad player.  There is plenty of blame to go around on this one: While playing shortstop in Cuba, the scouts felt that he didn’t have the skills to play that position in the big leagues.  The Dodgers game him some work at second base, but never enough reps to get proficient (that is partly due to Dee Gordon’s little-anticipated ascendance at the position in 2014); and then they moved him around the diamond like he was playing a game of musical chairs.  Unfortunately for both the player and the team, the music has stopped.  The front office thought it made sense to take a 4/$28M risk on a mid-level hitter with no real Major League defensive position.  Now the Dodgers are forced to pay about $7M to make this mistake go away.

But Guerrero is a drop-in-the-bucket compared to the debacle that is and was Carl Crawford.  With the hand-writing on the wall for seasons, the Dodgers finally bit the bullet and ate the remaining $35M on this deal.  Red Sox fans rejoiced when the Dodgers took over this $142M albatross in 2012, and now the Dodgers are left holding the bag.  Time will tell if Crawford can ever be serviceable Major League player, but he will still be paid like one through the end of next season.

These two teams are tied in ways other than the 5 Freeway and the NL West.  When Dodgers dumped Matt Kemp on the Pads before last season, they agreed to pay $3.5M of the $21.5M Kemp is entitled to until the end of the 2019 season.  However, when (if?) the Padres can dump Kemp on some other unsuspecting team prior to the August 1st trade deadline, it seems pretty clear that they will have to eat some money.  Thus, there is a great chance that, come August, Matt Kemp is wearing yet another uniform and getting paychecks from three different clubs.

One team unwilling (yet) to eat cash, and choosing instead to eat crow every other day or so is the Philadelphia Phillies.  They still owe Ryan Howard about $16M for this season, and then $10M to buy out his option for next year.  Rather than release a fan favorite (?) and someone who has meant a lot to the team and the community, they give Howard spot starts and pinch-hitting opportunities.  How has that worked out: 9 HRs, 9 singles, .150 BA, .559 OPS, and strike outs in 1/3 of all plate appearances.  There is no sign that Matt Klentak or the owners are willing to embarrass Howard by releasing him; they would rather embarrass him by allowing him to try to hit.

Of course, as I have written previously, the grand-daddy of all “eating cash” deals is still a guy who was back in the news today: Josh Hamilton.  As of the moment the Angels shipped Hamilton to the Rangers, they remained on the hook for $73.5M of $79.5M Hamilton was due through 2017.  It was announced today that, after it had been previously announced that Hamilton would miss the entire season, he had surgery to totally reconstruct his ACL.  He may never play again.  I guess, since he was traded in-division, this may be the best news the Angels could have received.

As television deals get richer, and as revenues continue to grow, and as GMs cannot help themselves from making long-term dumb (?) deals (see Greinke, Zack; Pujols, Albert; Cabrera, Miguel; Sabathia, CC; Sandoval, Pablo; Ramirez, Hanley; Ellsbury, Jacoby; etc., etc.), in the years to come you may see more and more teams electing to eat cash rather than eat crow.

PLAY BALL!!

UNDERVALUED ASSETS

Last week we set out to determine which team was carrying the worst contracts for the 2016 season.  As we saw, there were many contenders.  We ended by making reference to the great value in Noah Syndergaard’s $535K deal.  The great news for baseball owners and GMs is that there are many more Thor-like contracts out there – deals for impact players WAY below 2016 market value.

From the start, understand that the average MLB salary this season is $4.4M.  Now, that is not a median, just the mean.  There are a ton of over-priced players making more than $4.4M (see last week’s article); and there are a ton of players making substantially less – while their numbers would indicate they deserve substantially more.

The Major League minimum salary for 2016 is $507.5K (as a point of reference: in 1967 this was $6,000).  As you may know, for the first few years of a player’s career – prior to becoming arbitration eligible – the team dictates the player’s salary.  So, for the sake of simplicity, we will count any player making in the $500Ks a minimum deal.  Here is just a sampling of who falls into this category:

  • Dellin Betances (Best set-up man in baseball?)
  • Mookie Betts (Five-tool future of the Red Sox)
  • Jackie Bradley, Jr. (AL Player-of-the-Month; 29-game hitting streak)
  • Gerrit Cole (Ace of Pirates)
  • Carlos Correa (Rookie of the Year)
  • Sonny Gray (Come July, will be the most sought-after pitcher in baseball)
  • Kevin Kiermaier (Gold Glove winner)
  • Francisco Lindor (Rookie of Year runner-up)
  • Kevin Pillar (Gold Glove runner-up)
  • Addison Russell (Cornerstone SS for World Series favorite)
  • Corey Seager (Ranked top prospect in baseball)
  • Trevor Story (2016 Rookie of the Year?)
  • Marcus Stroman (Ace of Blue Jays)
  • Noah Syndergaard (No further description necessary)

If you raise the bar to the $600Ks, you also get Xander Bogaerts, Kris Bryant, and Jacob deGrom.

But those guys are mere pups.  Let’s seek out some real value under the league average:

  • Jose Fernandez: $2.8M
  • Chris Archer: $2.9M
  • Kenta Maeda: $3.125M
  • Jose Altuve: $3.68M
  • Matt Harvey: $4.325M
  • Corey Kluber: $4.7M (slightly above average, but worth including here)

For between $5-$10M, you could trot the following All-Star lineup:

  • P – Dallas Keuchel: $7.25M
  • P – Chris Sale: $9.15M
  • P – Madison Bumgarner: $9.9M
  • P – Yu Darvish: $10M
  • C – Devin Mesoraco: $5M
  • 1B – Anthony Rizzo: $5.28M
  • 2B – Paul Goldschmidt: $5.83M (some creative license)
  • SS – Manny Machado: $5M (back to his natural position)
  • 3B – Nolan Arenado: $5M
  • LF – Bryce Harper: $5M
  • CF – Yasiel Puig: $7.2M (opinions on the value of this deal vacillate from week to week)
  • RF – Giancarlo Stanton: $9M (his $325M deal is heavily backloaded; if he doesn’t opt-out, he gets $25M+ from 2018-2028)

If you wanted to spend more than $10M, but didn’t want to get to the list of 38 players making $20M or more this season, you could make do with these guys:

  • P – Stephen Strasburg: $10.4M
  • P – Jake Arrieta: $10.7M
  • C – Josh Donaldson: $11.65M (have to move him back to his original position)
  • 1B – David Ortiz: $16M
  • 2B – Ben Zobrist/Neil Walker: $10.5M (each)
  • SS – J.J. Hardy/Jhonny Peralta: $12.2M/$12.5M
  • 3B – Evan Longoria: $12.6M
  • LF – Alex Gordon: $12M
  • CF – Mike Trout: $16M
  • RF – Andrew McCutchen: $13.2M

Said differently, there are 55 players making more this season than this particular All-Star team.  So, all is not lost for the owners; there is still hope (and value) to be found on each 25-man roster.  Well, for this season anyway . . .

PLAY BALL!!